I was talking to my old friend Scott who works at the venerable Jim's Place East, and he said that they were not only moving to East Memphis but also updating the menu. We got to a point in our conversation where I wondered aloud how one would update something like tomato aspic. He said something to the effect of, "How would you update that?" Suddenly, I saw this as a challenge; since everyone remembers eating this tomato jell-o-like substance in the 80's or the 50's, it's now time to bring the aspic back. (Of course, there would be no gelatin involved. I used agar agar, or seaweed powder, from an Asian market instead.)
Easy Tomato Soup (for the eventual aspic)
Roughly chop 5 large tomatoes and cook them down on medium heat. Once they've broken down after about 10 minutes, run them through a food mill when they've cooled. Add a pinch of sea salt, red pepper flakes, and cracked pepper to taste. Microplane a clove of garlic into the mix. (Honestly, if you don't to do this prep., get a can of smooth tomato soup, because that's basically what you're ending up with here anyway.)
Vegetarian Tomato Aspic
2 cups cooked-down tomato soup
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. agar agar
Whisk together these 3 ingredients, making sure there are no lumps, and pour into a silicone muffin tin; add tomato slices on the bottom before you pour. Serve in the middle of a chopped salad of baby romaine, bleu cheese, celery, and top with buttermilk dressing.
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 clove of garlic, microplaned
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
sea salt and cracked pepper
Whisk all ingredients together and chill it in the fridge before using on the salad.